Monday, June 18, 2012

Scene of the Crime with Author Susan Elia MacNeal!

Back in April, I enjoyed reading the first book of this week's featured author so much that I knew I had to ask her for an interview. Mr. Churchill's Secretary is an engaging historical mystery which takes place during World War II, and its main character, Margaret Hope, is one that I hope to be able to follow through many adventures to come. I can't wait to get to know the author, Susan Elia MacNeal, a little better!

Susan Elia MacNeal
Before we get to the interview, let me share a few links with you, just in case you'd like to learn more about Susan:

Now let's get to the fun part-- the interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

The first book I remember reading and loving was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I think I read it for the first time in third grade. I just adored Jo. She spoke her mind, she was a tomboy, she cut all her hair off, she spoke and then thought. And, of course, she wanted to be a writer. I loved her for her big heart, her struggles with her anger, her love of reading and writing.

My character in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Maggie Hope, is definitely a descendent of Jo March. She’s part Jo March, part mathematician Alicia Stott, and part La Femme Nikita.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

I absolutely love to cook! This would be a perfect Saturday for me: walking through Prospect Park to go to the farmers’ market with my husband and son. Getting our usual homemade donuts and cider, and then picking out fresh fruits and vegetables for the week. Spending the rest of the day together, and then cooking up a big feast for friends coming over that night. Then, dinner —family, friends, fresh home-cooked food.

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
I would love to have you come visit me in Brooklyn!
First, a delicious brunch at Applewood, in Park Slope, a family-owned and -run restaurant with a constantly changing seasonal menu. Let’s try the brioche French toast and spring vegetable omelet. And coffee, because we’re going to need our energy!
Then we could walk down Seventh Avenue to Community Bookstore, one of the loveliest shops I’ve ever been to, with a fantastic selection of books and friendly, knowledgeable staff. We’ll say hi to their dog, two cats, and lizard, and sit for a moment in their tiny back garden, which hosts a turtle pond.

Then, off to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, known for its Japanese garden, as well as cherry blossoms, bluebells, and roses. Right now the lilacs are in peak bloom!

A quick trip on the subway to get to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to stop at CB: I Hate Perfume. I call it an “art gallery for the nose” — and any bibliophile will want to check out the fragrance In the Library, which master perfumer Christopher Brosius calls  “a warm blend of English Novel, Russian and Moroccan Leather Bindings, Worn Cloth and a hint of Wood Polish.” There are also other fragrances to sniff, such as “Memory of Kindness” and “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.”
After walking around Williamsburg, we would end the day with vintage cocktails and dinner at the Clover Club, an elegant Victorian-style bar in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. I recommend starting with deviled eggs served four ways — topped with crispy bacon croutons, smoked paprika and garlic bread crumbs, house smoked trout, and mushrooms duxelles. And let’s try the Marguerite Cocktail, which is made from gin, dry vermouth, Herbsaint, and orange bitters.

Then we’ll head back to Park Slope, to hear some music at Barb├Ęs, a cozy bar and performance space that hosts live performances of jazz, blues, bluegrass, and eclectic international music. They have a great single malt Scotch selection, as well.

[Wow! What an ambassador you are for Brooklyn. I'm sold!]

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Tina Fey
This is such a funny question! Tina Fey, because she’s smart and hilarious and brunette, and I just adore her. Plus, she could write the screenplay, too.

If I could cast Maggie Hope, I’d love to see Emma Stone, Emily Blunt, or Elisabeth Moss in the role.

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

Nick & Nora Charles with Asta

Two characters — Nick and Nora Charles in Dashiel Hammett’s The Thin Man. I love their chemistry, banter, and love of martinis. And their dog, Asta.

Name one book that you've read that you wish you had written. What is it about that book that made it come to mind?

I don’t know that I wish I’d written it, but I remember being obsessed with Donna Tartt’s The Secret History when it first came out. I was twenty-two and an intern at Random House, and got a free copy (which is important when you’re living on a publishing salary). I remember spending that entire weekend shut up in my tiny, airless New York apartment, reading, reading, reading. I didn’t sleep. Didn’t eat. Just had to finish. Truly an intense experience.

How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published? What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore? 

On Sale Now!
You know, I’d had a long, long string of disappointments and rejections, and I’d said to my agent, “Please, let’s stop sending it out and I’ll self-publish. I just need closure.” To which she said, “Fine, but there are just a few more places I want to try before you do.” And, truly, I had no hope — just thought it was the pro-forma thing to do.

And then, out of the blue, she called. (FYI, agents never call.) And she told me that an editor at Random House wanted it, and a sequel as well. All I remember is I kept saying (like some crazy teenager), “Get out! Get out!” And she kept saying, “I will not ‘get out’!”

I think it finally sunk in after going back and forth with her at least ten times.

And then I told my husband, who been listening to the whole call, and he picked me up and twirled me around. Our son, who was five at the time, kept saying, “Daddy, do it again! Spin Mommy again!”

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event?

Kayaking on the Thames
Alas, I have a fractured knee, so I haven’t done any signings yet. But I’ve had some fantastic experiences on Twitter. The best is that a British man who runs a web site on London for Londoners saw my piece for Fodor’s, “Where Would Winston Churchill Drink? The Most Glamorous Cocktail Bars in London.”

He asked me to do a piece for him — and said the payment was a tee-shirt. And I said, “Um, no.” But then we started chatting and I found out that he has a most unusual way of commuting to work through London – via an inflatable kayak on the canals of the Thames. So I suggested I trade an article for a kayaking-on-the-Thames lesson — and he agreed! So we’ll be doing that this fall. I can’t wait.

What's the best thing about eBooks? What's the worst?

I love this question because I have very mixed feelings about ebooks. The best thing: I love the convenience of having a bazillion books in one place, for instance, on the subway, or on a really long trip, or waiting in a doctor’s office. I read pretty fast, so I don’t have to worry about finishing a book – because there’s always another. And nothing heavy to lug around. Heaven!

The worst thing about ebooks is that I really love books, the physical objects. I like to touch them, hold them, smell them, have them on my shelves.

And I hate losing power in the middle of a particularly terrific chapter on an ebook, which has happened a number of times, once on a delayed flight. Paper books would never leave you hanging like that!


Coming in October!

Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to get to know you a little better, Susan. May your book sales do nothing but increase!


  1. If her book reflects her personality, then I absolutely must read it. Loved this interview!

    1. I'm glad you liked the interview, Barbara. I do believe that her book does reflect her personality!

  2. I have to respect anyone who loves Nick & Nora. I will have to look for her books the next time I'm at the store.

    1. There's just something about Nick and Nora, isn't there?

  3. Cathy, Susan's completely sold me on Brooklyn, too. That sounds like a WONDERFUL day trip!

    P.S. That's EXACTLY how I feel about ebooks. :-)

  4. Fabulous interview! Now I simply must pick up Mr. Churchill's Secretary and The Secret History. To hear Susan tell of it, it is a must for my TBR list!

    1. You've chosen two very good books to read, Shirley. I remember reading The Secret History when it was first published, too, and although I couldn't read until the last page was turned, I came very very close!

  5. Thank you so much! Barbara, Ryan, Debbie, Shirley, please do let me know if/when you come to Brooklyn and I'll give you the tour!


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